Why are India's Twitter users moving to Mastodon?

Mastodon login page

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A number of India’s twitter influencers are joining the little known Mastodon

A number of Indian Twitter users, including “influencers”, are leaving the social media network for a little known alternative called Mastodon.

The move comes amid criticism of what some are calling Twitter’s “highly inconsistent” stand on hate speech.

It was sparked by Twitter suspending a leading Supreme Court lawyer’s account twice.

A number of users who have switched to Mastodon say they think it is a more egalitarian alternative.

What is the row against Twitter about?

Lawyer Sanjay Hegde had his account suspended twice – once because of an image he tweeted and secondly, after he retweeted a poem.

His supporters say Twitter tolerates rhetoric against minorities and he is being targeted because of his “secular and liberal” views.

Twitter has denied these charges. It put out a statement saying it does not moderate its content based on “ideological or political” viewpoints.

But regular Twitter users as well as technology experts say the platform has a blemished history when it comes to moderating content in India.

“Until the Indian government started going after WhatsApp, it was clear the company hadn’t done enough to address misinformation on its platform,” the editor of internet watchdog Medianama, Nikhil Pahwa, told the BBC’s Krutika Pathi.

“Similarly, Twitter hasn’t done enough to address hate speech – there is a huge bias in the way it works.”

A recent report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found that Twitter removed nearly a million tweets and blocked around 100 accounts in India as part of their “country withheld” policy. The report said most of the blocked content was critical of the government’s recent move to strip Indian-administered Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, and were made after requests by the government itself.

“With Twitter, the problem is mounting – there is a growing sense that the platform is closing down or suppressing voices that are critical of the government, so there is a lot of concern over that,” said Nilanjana Roy, an author who recently signed up for a Mastodon account.

What is Mastodon?

Mastodon is an open source network, where users can post, comment, follow other users and publish images and videos like on a conventional platform.

But what is most significant is that it is decentralised and open-source – this means that there is no single entity running the network.

Instead, users create and run their own servers. This means the social network then is made up of many servers – each of which has its own rules. This also allows users to choose servers that they think conform with the policies they agree with.

Mastodon was first released in October 2016 and the network claims to have more than 2.2 million users.

Twitter has more than 300 million users.

While many have hailed Mastodon as a great alternative to Twitter, some have pointed out that its not as easy to use, which means its unlikely that Mastodon is going to take over – even in the long term.

Others have dismissed the movement to leave Twitter as “a temporary fad” which is unlikely to make a lasting mark.

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